Harvest Manitoba breakfast program to adapt format, continues to feed families in remote learning

CBC Manitoba is hosting live events all day Friday to raise money for Harvest Manitoba. Here’s how to listen. To donate, you can drop off food items at Harvest Manitoba at 1085 Winnipeg Ave., call 204-982-3582 until 8 p.m. CT Friday or visit Harvest Manitoba online (select ‘DONATE NOW’ in the top right corner) until the evening of Sunday, Dec. 6.

A Harvest Manitoba program that feeds hundreds of students each weekend is shifting gears due to remote learning — again.

The Breakfast 2 Go program gives each student in four Winnipeg schools a bag of food on Friday afternoons. They’re full of breakfast items for the two days students aren’t in class and don’t have access to in-school meal programs. But with classrooms closed earlier this year, and now again for some students in the new year, the program will adapt.

“We couldn’t just say, ‘Oh, sorry, there’s no more food,'” said Mika Peterson, with Manitoba Harvest. “We had to find a way.”

When classrooms closed in the spring, Harvest Manitoba co-ordinated hampers for families in need, but staff realized the breakfast program was sorely missed. 

Mika Peterson is the community events manager with Harvest Manitoba. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

From July to October, Harvest sent kits with two weeks’ worth of food to Waywayseecappo, Brochet and Fisher River First Nations. Staff also set up in front of five Winnipeg schools once a week to give out bigger kits of food. Along with breakfast, families also received essentials.

And that new model helped families like Shannon Allard’s.

“All of that helped a lot because it actually was some of the items, instead of going into the larger grocery store, we were able to just get those items from the pickup,” said the West End mom of six.

“It kind of alleviated us having to go into the store.”

Allard’s two young sons are in the program, and they’re big fans of the chocolate milk and Cheerios packages that come in the kits.

Drayton, Brandon and Kaelan Perreault are Shannon Allard’s sons who have used the Breakfast 2 Go program at their school. (Supplied by Shannon Allard)

But T’ai Pu’s sons aren’t into the Cheerios. That’s why he collects what his children don’t eat from the kit … and donates it to others. Right now, he’s looking to donate 25 boxes of individual servings of Cheerios. The other day, he gave away a whole box of oranges.

Not for a lack of consumption, he says, but because Manitoba Harvest is so generous and gives his sons and other children more than one kit every now and then.

“A thing like Manitoba Harvest becomes so pivotal at times like this where people are struggling to find options,” said Pu.

“Not only does this fill a food need, I think it fills a sense of community need. It helps to crack the isolation because you’re getting this thing from elsewhere showing that somebody somewhere cares. And with the economic stress these cats are going through, it gives you a little bit of a breather. A little bit of a reprieve to be receiving these resources that are regularly available.”

Once classrooms opened back up in September, Harvest returned to the Friday afternoon distribution in four main schools: Mulvey, Pinkham, Victor Wyatt and Machray schools. 

Remote learning forcing change again

The province’s plan to move students in grades 7 through 12 to remote learning as of Jan. 4 for two weeks doesn’t affect most of those students since most of those schools only go up to Grade 6. But Victor H. L. Wyatt’s junior high students will be sent home.

Harvest Manitoba says they’ll provide kits to the school for students in grades 7 and 8 who will be remote learning, and whose families can pick up safely at the school. If those students have a younger sibling at the school, they can take home the additional kit to the older sibling who is remote learning.

As for the younger students whose parents want them to learn remotely, Harvest is still ironing out plans. Pu says this program has become vital to his neighbourhood, so it’s great that they’ll be continuing the program.

“What it illustrates is it’s only through community that we can get through things like this. And it’s only through developing and sharing resources that everybody’s going to make it around the corner.”